(Good) Problem statement – the most ignored aspect of a solution

A good problem statement is one half of the solution.

In order to arrive at a solution to a problem, we need to have a good problem statement. Most of the time the problem statement is made up of a lot of assumptions or too general in nature. A bad statement would almost include a solution within the statement.

So, what constitutes a good problem statement?

A good problem statement will first identify the person(a) affected. We are providing solution to a person and it is necessary to understand and know the person in order to deliver the right kind of solution. For example, two people are facing the same problem – getting their documents printed from thier computer to the printer, one is a customer service desk personel and other is a CEO. The way you address the problem is going to be determined by the persona for whom you are addressing the problem.

It should clearly capture the pain points of the person experiencing the problem. The solution is about addressing the pain points and not necessarily solving/fixing the problem. You are not able to print the tickets to the movie. So the pain point is you will not be allowed to enter the auditorium without showing the tickets and you will miss the show. The solution does not necessarily have to be about fixing the printer, you could download a copy of the tickets on your phone so that you can show that to enter the auditorium.

The problem statement should also highlight when or in what circumstance the problem is experienced. This is very crucial because a problem may not always exist, it may depend on certain circumstances. For example, a customer complains that the car tyres are bad, they keep skidding on the road. But it would help to mention that this happens in winter when there is heavy snow.

The problem statement should also quantify the impact of the problem. When you are putting a number to an impact area, it is always good to use one of the following methods:

  1. A run rate i.e.: 5 times a week
  2. X amount in Y duration, i.e.: reduce 50% in 90 days

Then numbers help you understand the urgency of the need for a solution. For example: If a customer says they want to fix the issue of power cuts at their home. Now, you do not know how frequently it happens, so you cannot provide them with the right solution. If the power cuts happen every other day or couple of times a week and take few hours to restore, then your solution would be to provide a UPS that would keep the essentials running for the known duration. However, if it happens once or twice a year for a few minutes, then probably, it does not matter to solve the problem.

And finally, a good problem statement never proposes a solution along with the problem.


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